What if kids could have a multilingual & multicultural experience in an app that celebrates who they are in an authentic way?

Tipitom© is a mobile & dual language immersion platform designed for multicultural kids to learn & positively celebrate who they are.

Photo of Deborah Castillero
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As a Latina, raised by an immigrant mother, living just above the poverty line, I had the amazing opportunity to spend the summers with my abuela in Panama where I became bilingual and bicultural. My mother use to say, "we may be poor, but we're not stupid." I believe having access to a high quality education early, feeling empowered by one's culture and being bilingual set the stage for a successful career. I set out to learn more and worked on a white paper for Vme Media about the Latino educational crisis. I learned the number of ESL children entering school was increasing (Batalova & McHugh, 2010), and that specific strategies are needed to augment proficiency in the L2s to impact ESL children’s learning trajectories and chances of academic success (Espinosa, 2013; Hammer, Jia, & Uchikoshi, 2011; McCabe et al., 2013). In some cases, poverty influences language development in L2 learners. One possible explanation is that children from low-income households have smaller vocabulary sizes because they receive less language input from their parents than do middle-class children (Hart & Risley, 1995; Hoff, 2006; Hoff, Laursen, & Bridges, 2012). Vocabulary size is one of the best predictors of academic achievement and general intelligence (e.g., Anderson & Freebody, 1981). I also read a research report on how dual language education has been proven to enhance overall student outcomes and close the achievement gap in second language. (P. Collier, Wayne P. Thomas 2004).

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)




Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Connecticut

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

At present time we're in Norwalk, CT. However before year end, we hope to relocate to San Diego, CA

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose, Miami, Orlando, San Antonio, Houston, McAllen-Brownville, Dallas, Denver, San Juan, New York City, Queens, Pico Rivera, Pomona, Baldwin Park, Covina, East Palo Alto, El Centro, Goleta, Modesto, Montebello, Oxnard, Sacramento, Salinas, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Marcos, San Mateo, Santa Ana

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The number of children growing up in dual language environments is increasing in the US. Despite the apparent benefits of speaking two languages, children learning English as a second language (ESL) often face struggles, as they may experience poverty and impoverished language input at home. There is evidence that ELLs consistently underperform in both reading and math when compared to children in other groups (NAEP, 2003-2007). The challenge is how to support ELLs in acquiring academic proficiency to develop the requisite language and literacy skills that are crucial for mastering academic content(Snipes, Soga, & Uro, 2007). We believe that in combining high quality instruction, a dual language pedagogy & culturally relevant storytelling, we can help close the gap.With mobile we can gain access to the home as well as the classroom and create opportunities for parents to learn with kids.

According to Michael Levine, Author of "Tap, Click, Read," more than two thirds of American fourth graders are not reading at grade level or “proficiently,” (Nation’s Report card 2015). For children in low income families and children of color, the numbers are even worse: more than 80 percent are not hitting the proficient mark. Levine recommends "build upon the assets such as dual language learning and rich cultural knowledge inherent in the United States’ diversity."

Speaking multiple languages is the norm, not the exception in many parts of the world. Even in the United States, roughly 12.9% of individuals over the age of five reported that they spoke a language other than English at home in 2013, representing an increase of 117% since 1990 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013).

Yet many of the apps we see today for kids still lack the best pedagogy, multicultural characters and/or ethnically relevant storytelling. As a Hispanic adult, I'm still annoyed by how Hollywood portrays minorities and by the hateful rhetoric in today's political discourse (Mexicans are rapists). It's important to provide early learners with opportunities to see their culture presented in a positive way to help build self-esteem, promote diversity and acceptance among all children. Therefore, in our app we've intentionally delineated strategies to effectively increase language acquisition, empower kids by shining a positive light on their culture and encourage parental engagement in their child's mobile learning experience. 

At about age 2 years, children begin to notice gender and racial differences. At 2 ½ or so, children learn gender labels (boy/girl) and the name of colors which they begin to apply to skin color. Around 3 years of age, children notice physical disabilities. At about 4-5 years, they start to display gender appropriate behavior and become fearful of differences. Therefore, introducing diversity at an early age is important and often overlooked. We believe in celebrating diverse cultures, gender, styles and race, so we can help kids see themselves in a positive light and learn that being different is ok as we're all human beings.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

App Store reviews 4 Stars: Sabine-I am an educator. I am always looking for educational apps. Tipi Tom includes skills that all 3/4 year olds should learn 4 Stars: Kathryn-Whether you’re a kid or an adult, Tipi Tom is a great and fun way to learn Spanish. I love it as a learning tool 5 Stars: A Leer-My daughter loves the characters. She doesn’t get tired of watching the cartoon and playing the games. I don’t mind because she’s learning at the same time 5 Stars: Bilingual Mami-I speak to my son already in English and Spanish. This is great; creating learning more fun. 5 Stars Nahuel-My 5 year old is finally practicing Spanish. She liked the story and loved the games 5 Stars Kzuno-This is a very cute. Bilingual helps with biliteracy

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Last year we launched our MVP; 8,600+ kids, families and educators have been enjoying the Tipitom experience. We haven't conducted an official impact study, however we've heard from a multitude of educators and parents about the usefulness of the app in helping kids learn their letters, colors, numbers and shapes in 2 languages. In light of the federal government’s new policy statement on the need to better support our country’s youngest dual language learners (DLLs) in early childhood programs, we believe our company is well positioned to provide high quality dual language tools for Head Start, parents and practitioners who work with ESL children. Through our sound pedagogy, diverse characters and ethnic storylines, we'll help kids see themselves in an authentic and positive way, not only through the way they look, but also in how they communicate, what they do & what is done to them.

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We're raising capital to build out the next version of the Tipitom app. Once the app is built we'll sell it on the App Store and on Google Play. We'll also monetize the app with a Head Start subscription model. We've delineated several marketing campaigns to drive user acquisition including our partnership with Facebook for their Free Basic Platform that delivers a web-based version to 42 rural countries. Full financial projections available.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Repackaged Preschool Curriculum in A Mobile App Unique value: Focus on early learners, dual language (English +), STEM, transmedia, culturally responsive, kid centric Unique features: bilingual animated videos, gaming in 2 languages, personalized storybook, educational tips for parents, Mandarin and Russian version in 2018 Unique activities: two-players, playing, creating, contributing and rewards Competitors: ABCMouse, Speakaboos, Pocoyo, Toca Boca, Little Pim, Endless Alphabet (none use a dual language model or are Hispanic centric). A full detailed report is available upon request.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Like all of us, kids need to be able to see themselves in the world around them through an authentic cultural experience in which they can identify. America's demographics are changing yet racism and segregation continues to exist in Hollywood, in politics and in our schools. Now more than ever is it important to build bridges and give everyone an authentic cultural experience that allows us to learn, grow and celebrate diversity. With one every 4 children born today to a Hispanic parent, let's build digital platforms to empower and educate these kids of color to be confident and welcomed.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Lori A. Hoepner, DrPH, MPH Assistant Professor Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences SUNY Downstate Medical Center School of Public Health

Program Design Clarity

Our main beneficiary group are preschool DLLs, ELLs, ESLs, Head Start schools and families who want to their children to learn a second language at home, “on the go,” and/or in a structured preschool classroom. Main activities include daily usage of the Tipi Tom app to learn 200+ words in both Spanish English to build oral language skills and celebrate diversity. For Head Start schools, 30% of all of their students are ELLs, therefore we expect high adoption rates from teachers and families. Later we plan to build other dual language products to support learning for kids globally.

Community Leadership

Please see this link to see full details regarding my amazing advisors who consist of PhDs, community leaders and experts. http://www.tipitomtales.com/#!advisors/cwum9

Age of Children Impacted

  • 3 - 5

Spread Strategies

We’ve signed a content licensing deal with American Greetings Entertainment to integrate their flagship property, Care Bears, into the next version of Tipitom. Apple has signed on as a partner and advisor to help us develop the best possible product and advocate for our success internally with the App Store and country offices in LaTam; soon we’ll be on Facebook’s Free Basics, a global platform in 40 countries.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Diversity teaches young children to respect and celebrate the differences in all people. Learning about different cultural aspects offers new experiences for children. Children’s connection to their culture develops through their experiences. Having a strong sense of their own cultural history and traditions helps children build a positive cultural identity for themselves. With Tipitom, we help kids see themselves in a positive & authentic way.

Leadership Story

My humanitarian work with the Kuna Indians took me to the islands of San Blas are off the coast of Panama. For 7 years my son and I travelled to these remote islands bringing greatly needed over the counter medicines. Over the years we came to realize the medicine was just a Band-Aid to the real problem: lack of clean water. We shifted our focus and created an informational/fundraising video about the problem and a possible solution. With the support of many we produced this video to raise awareness about the Kunas of Panama: https://youtu.be/_Anvz3Txaws

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Best iPhone rank ever is #4 in Education in Colombia Best iPad rank ever is #6 in Education in Mexico Best Google Play rank ever is #15 in Games Educational in Costa Rica 2016 Fellow, Unreasonable Institute's Early Childhood Accelerator 2016 Winner; Facebook's Social Good Track 2015: SOCAP

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)


Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 50%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 25%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 25%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 50%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 25%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 25%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 25%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 25%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 25%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 50%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 25%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 100%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 66.7%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 0%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 66.7%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

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Attachments (2)

Tipitom Brochure (Eng).pdf

Tipitom brochure for educators available in both Spanish and English.

Testimonials from Educators.pdf

Endorsement quotes from: Dr. Leo Gómez, Retired Professor, Dual Language Training Institute, NABE Past-President; Zulmaris Diaz, Ph.D, Associate Professor at University of Texas, Pan-America; Cecilia Garibay, Language Therapist, former PreKinder Educator (Mexico City); Sabine West, ESL/German Language Instructor at Berlitz; Eligio Cedeño, President, Vme Media


Join the conversation:

Photo of G Nguyen

Aloha e Deborah, thank you for sharing your story! Our organization is also looking into developing a language app. Technology can do amazing things! I know it's outside of this opportunity, but I would love to learn more about the business side of the operation, logistics, business plan, and financials, if possible. Good luck!

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